Notre Dame ready to deal with extended break

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Notre Dame ready to deal with extended break

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The grind of a season can take its toll on a team as the games pile up, but now, Notre Dame has a completely different issue to deal with: a 44-day layoff between games.

An upshot of playing in the season's final game is the lengthy layoff, which for Notre Dame began when the clock hit zero on Nov. 24 in Los Angeles and won't end until the night of Jan. 7 in South Florida.

Notre Dame players filed into the Gug Sunday to watch the BCS selection show wearing shirts boasting the team's "unfinished business." Those aren't an unfortunate homage to Matt Barkley and USC's preseason motto, but instead a motivational slogan for the team's extended break.

"Were not taking this period off, were not taking a break," safety Zeke Motta said. "Were going to get after it and let our bodies heal given the proper amount of time, but were still going to be doing some stuff to make sure that were going to be on our A-game."

For last week and this week, that means conditioning and weight training, as well as letting players get caught up on classwork as finals week begins Dec. 10. The team's first bowl practice is Friday, giving them a month of preparation -- minus six days for Christmas between Dec. 21-27 -- for the BCS Championship.

These are uncharted waters for Brian Kelly, who spoke to coaches at LSU and Oregon about their preparation for the last two BCS Championships.

"We were pretty much right on with what we thought the schedule should look like leading in to the championship game," Kelly said. "Its a one-game deal. Were just trying to be better than Alabama on Monday, Jan. 7. Our entire focus will be on a one-game season, trying to be better on Monday, Jan. 7. We dont want to be better than Alabama on the 27th of December."

Alabama coach Nick Saban is a veteran at dealing with these championship breaks, and will guide the Tide through them for the third time in four years. When asked about the plan for layoffs on a conference call with both coaches Sunday, Kelly joked he wanted Saban to answer the question first to get an idea of how Alabama has succeeded in December and January preparation.

"The way we try to do it, youre so far removed from the season to the bowl game, especially when you play Jan. 7 in the National Championship game, we try to look at it like its a one-game season," Saban explained. "Let the players finish the semester, do weight training and conditioning for the next couple weeks and then we start to have some fundamental practices, camp-like -- like fall camp. Take a few days off for Christmas, come back and start getting ready for the game in terms of challenges that Notre Dame presents to our team."

That plan sounds right about in line with Kelly's. But no matter how long the break is between games, getting players motivated in practice won't be a battle Notre Dame's coaches will have to fight.

"Its the National Championship, so I dont care if we have to prepare for two months," defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "Youre playing for all the marbles."

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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